Today, we pick up right where we left off last week with Part 2 of our episode with Dr. Rich Blundell. We discussed things such as his company in Oika, how they interact with artists and NFT technology, as well as the broader scope of ecology in general. If you are new to this podcast, welcome and enjoy.
However, you’re probably going to want to check out Part 1, or in a few seconds when we dive right in, you’re probably going to be a bit confused. Without further ado, enjoy the episode. Speaking of those that kind of holistic view, I know you did this amazing artwork with AI from the beginning of light waves, and it was a bit over my head. Essentially, can you talk a bit about the connection from that variation of temperatures from the beginning of whatever? Again, I’m not a scientist guy, so I apologize.
Okay. Let’s see if I can do this in a way that’s understandable. There is this phenomena that science has discovered, it’s called the cosmic microwave background radiation. We know this because we send up these satellites that are tuned to see in the microwave band of light. When we do that, and we let them take a 360-degree picture of the whole universe, the sky, what they reveal is this pattern of the earliest light of the universe. The universe is 13.8 billion years old.
Right after the big bang, it was super-hot, super-dense, matter couldn’t exist, light was constantly going in and out of its different forms. It was a plasma. It was this chaotic moment. As it was expanding, it was cooling. When it got to a certain critical temperature when it cooled just enough, suddenly, light could take a discreet form called photon. Suddenly now, the universe is filled with photons, but because there’s nothing for those photons to reflect off of, it’s completely dark. We live at 380,000 years.
Suddenly, the universe went dark. It’s called the moment of recombination when all the physical forces came together as photons, then they scattered. Because there’s nothing in the universe, it’s transparent and dark. We sent up this satellite that can see in microwave light, and as it looks out into space, it looks back in time. It looks all the way back into that moment when that cooling event happened, this recombination event happened.
What it sees, what the satellite sees is the wall of light behind which the big bang is, behind which is all that plasma, which is opaque. We can’t see through it. It’s bright white light, and then it went dark. What we’re seeing is what’s called the surface of last scattering. Anyway, if you look this up, you’ll see this pattern. It’s called the cosmic microwave background radiation. It’s an oval shape because it’s actually the inside surface of a sphere, and when you project out onto a flat surface, it looks like an oval.
What’s important about that, that microwave cosmic background radiation, number one is that it’s there, which means that most of our models for how the universe evolved; they’re consistent. They agree with what we see, this thing that we see in the sky. What’s interesting about this pattern is that there is a pattern at all. In other words, it’s not uniform; there’s blotches of color. There’s blotches and the colors represent different temperatures and energy levels in the early universe.
It’s not uniform, which means that one spot in the early universe is different than another spot in the universe. In this case, it’s temperature. This temperature over here is different from that temperature over there. If they had been the same temperature, there’d be no opportunity for a relationship between those two points. Because of that difference, now we have a relationship. We have a relationship between this temperature and that temperature. If they’re the same, there’s no relationship.
Now, it turns out that the whole universe as we experience it today is built on the evolution of those relationships. The first relationships of light evolved into the earliest stars. That’s how that relationship manifests as stars. Those stars congregated into galaxies. Those galaxies had stars in them that went supernova, created planetary systems on some planets, or at least one that we know of, life emerged and here we are. The entire history of the universe, in fact, my relationship to you right now which is just nascent. We never actually met, but we do have a relationship. Our relationship is inherent all the way back to those previous relationships. Do you see what I mean?
If the universe hadn’t unfolded the way that it did, but it did unfold that way, which means that our relationship traces its ancestry all the way back to the cosmic background radiation. The point is that that’s an incredibly powerful image. That image of the cosmic background radiation can teach you how deeply interconnected and related everything really is. I took that image and I tell this story about how that radiation evolved into us. I tried to take an artistic approach to showing that, to telling that story.
What I did was I took the cosmic microwave background radiation image, fed it into an AI into a neural network; an image neural network. What this neural network does is it takes an image and a text string that I generated, a text string of a concept that I created. Compares the two things and it goes back and forth between these two endpoints algorithmically, and it modifies the image to try and match the text string. This is just how some neural networks work. I let that run. I let that run thousands and thousands of iterations.
As it did, it mimics the cosmic evolution. It took the cosmic background microwave radiation, and it let it evolve into a piece of art that it generated given its limited parameters. Now, granted that’s what you would call a teleological system because I actually gave it an endpoint which is not really legit. That’s not really legit in science. The idea is just that it is an artistic treatment that shows how the cosmic background microwave radiation can evolve into all the complexity that we see today. That’s what those are art pieces that you’re referring to are trying to do. I’m not sure if that made any sense or not.
Yes. I mean, the second time after I’ve heard it, it makes a bit more sense. If anyone else didn’t get it out there, just replay it.
The idea there is that I’m working in alliance with nature. I go out into nature, into natural places, and I listen. I let it communicate. Then I bring that intelligence that it’s communicated to me into the AI. I become the conduit of that intelligence, and I feed it into the artificial intelligence, which is a misnomer by the way, because that artificial intelligence is really just an extension of human intelligence, which is an extension of nature’s intelligence. The fact that we call it artificial intelligence, it’s kind of a myth. There’s only one intelligence. It just happens to take different forms. Anyway, so the point of that exercise is to have this conversation, it’s to bring this conversation into the art community.
Again, it’s really amazing photos that were designed by AI. It’s just mind-blowing. Hopefully, we can post a link that’ll allow people to see that because I recommend it. Speaking on that connection in that conversation and understanding. There’s a quote on your site that I found that I really liked is by Terence McKenna that says, “If we rise out of the human dimension, we discover larger more into integrated dimensions where mind and nature somehow interpenetrate each other. A coherent vision like that has yet to announce itself here in the post history pre-apocalypse space of things.” I love that, but I wanted to talk a little bit about that. How does the educating of that higher intelligence would you like to elaborate?
Sure. Terence McKenna, he was like a psychedelics guy. He explored psychedelics and just an incredible orator and thinker, and a rogue science philosopher. I didn’t learn about him until after I had actually gotten my PhD. I only learned about him a few years ago, but then managed to work my way through all of his talks and just found an incredible amount of resonance with things that I had independently experienced or come to– not through psychedelics, but through science.
A lot of the things that he saw and understood psychedelically, I understood through normal experience of the natural world, and also through a scientific understanding. I got really intrigued by his work. What he’s saying is that if we try, if we allow ourselves to, that we can enter into this dimension of intelligence that’s out there. He says that that’s yet to be articulated.
Well, actually, that’s just what I articulated. That’s exactly what Oika is articulating. Not from his path which was through psychedelics, but through simple contemplation of nature. There’s another way to actually access that intelligence. That’s what that quote is all about. That’s what Oika is. Oika is the intelligence of nature, but I also like to think of it in terms of expressed through the human thought in action.
Oika is really- when we acknowledge how human intelligence and creativity, is actually the expression of nature’s intelligence and creativity. Once you feel that reality- and that is the reality, once you feel that, you are living in a different world. You are suddenly in an alliance with an incredibly creative and potent force, and it’s in you. It’s in all of us. We’ve just forgotten it and neglected it, but I think it’s time to remember it because we need it.
The fact that we have forfeited that understanding has manifest in all of these injuries that we’re now living through. All of the collective traumas and injustices and the toxicity of the world that we’ve created rise out of the fact that we have forgotten that deeper sense of belonging, and that’s what Oika is trying to do, is to restore that in some degree. Restored in people, restored in artists, restored in art, so that it can be restored in culture, that’s the idea. I can’t remember what your question was. I’m not even sure if that answered it. Sorry.
Yes, it does. It was just about explaining that quote that I thought was just worded beautifully, and really when I read it on your side, I was like, wow. Can you elaborate more on why you specifically decided– I know you had mentioned to me prior to start instilling this in leaders as well, but why you chose artists?
I think artists are more open to surprise. I come from a scientific community that’s very skeptical, very conservative. Conservative in its willingness to– I’m not criticizing this– well, actually, I am criticizing the scientific community, but I understand why it has to maintain rigor. I understand why it holds its knowledge to be not sacred, but I understand why science reveres its knowledge, because it’s a hard one, and it has all kinds of mechanisms built into it to test it, to challenge itself.
I get that. I totally respect. I’ve studied the philosophy of science, so I respect what it can do, but I also respect what it can’t do. I think that the creative communities which we just collectively call artists, they have more freedom to speculate about reality. I think that a balance of those two things is where the real energy is. That’s where the real productivity is.
Is that somehow the reason you chose artists in a correlation, because of their ability to create that change? For example, Bob Marley said that he wanted to cure racism by his music alone, that was one of the quotes that he had. Is it a long– and this obviously isn’t going down like racism or anything, because that’s not really what we’re talking about, but is that–
Well, actually no. Let me just jump in there and say that there is a cure to racism in this. This is a big, big thing actually that this understanding that I’m trying to articulate is so fundamental to us that curing this thing, this division, this divorce of ourselves from the natural world will actually by default cure all of those more downstream injuries like racism, xenophobia, economic injustice, incompetent politics, whatever you want to call it.
All of those are symptoms of this deeper schism where Oika is operating. Oika is operating on that deeper schism that then will help solve all those downstream problems by default. I’m not sure if that was the question you were going to ask, but I think that’s worth answering.
Yes. Well, that’s exactly what I was trying to get at is that connection between the artists and how they’re the vessel to communicate the end goal of Oika which is obviously just a deeper understanding. I know that one of the other things that you had created, and I don’t know if you want to talk about this quickly or whatever, is there a Gratitude Map?
Actually, probably not because the Gratitude Map is an amazing idea, and we’re going to pursue it. We’re just not going to pursue it with that particular platform. I’ve just made arrangements with a new platform that’s much more robust, but there is an important aspect to it which is the practice part. The point of the Gratitude Map was to give people a structure for getting out in the world and experiencing the communication that’s going on in nature.
That’s what it’s about. It’s about taking time out of our modern life to sit quietly, listen, let yourself feel all kinds of deeper emotional things, and hear what nature’s trying to say to us. Ultimately, the big takeaway is gratitude. That’s what the Gratitude Map is all about.
One of the things that I was really interested in is that when we were talking and just understanding and trying to figure out as much as I can about this ecology and Oika, in general, was that we had this beginning atmosphere of earth when earth had no oxygen in its atmosphere, these little itty bitty not even like animals that we call them today, but these almost microscopic life forms emitted this oxygen because it was their waste product.
This is probably well known, but I just thought it was very interesting, and I’ll lead into a question, but fast-forwarding that to today and beyond that of global warming or whatever you want to call it, is there anything more specifically, that you’ve seen in the field or from your life that is almost climate comparative to what we’ve done since the pre-modern human era?
Well, absolutely. The thing that you’re talking about is usually referred to as the Great Oxygenation Event when early algae in the oceans converted our atmosphere on the planet from one that didn’t have oxygen in it to one that did. It went from what we call a reducing atmosphere to an oxidizing atmosphere. The point of that really is to show that there was a time on this planet, if you could drop yourself into that moment, you wouldn’t be able to breathe; there’s no oxygen.
There was a time on this planet when this atmosphere was inhospitable to human life. Those kinds of changes can happen. Changes that once you put a process into action that can run itself through, you can literally shift the habitability of the planet from beautifully designed for our enjoyment to excruciatingly terminal. It has happened many times that the conditions of life on this planet have shifted. The point there is that we could do that.
We could shift the conditions of this planet to such a degree that it shifts into a completely inhospitable state for us. It’s end game. There’s no escape if that happens. It could happen quickly. It could happen with the span of a century. That this planet becomes uninhabitable to humanity. Sure, you can argue whether or not that could actually happen, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that it could. That we could either initiate–
It’s already happened, right? Maybe not from us.
It’s happening, but it could actually go to the point where we drive ourselves to extinction, like game over. It’s an existential issue. Then the microbes return to dominate, but we won’t be here. That’s possible. It’s bad idea, but it’s possible. We know it’s possible because it’s happened. We have the fossil record. We have the evidence. I think that alone is enough to wake us up to the risk that we’re taking by denying it.
Maybe there are mechanisms that we don’t understand that could bring it back into balance, or keep it in this, but maybe not, and is it really worth risking the whole game on that when the science suggests that it could all come crashing down. To top it off, I think seeing the beauty and how it is now is a motivator to not let this go away. When you look around and you feel the complexity and you feel the diversity and you feel the imperfect perfection and the beauty of this world that we’ve inherited, it just seems idiotic to put that at risk. We need bigger incentives, bigger things to belong to so that we make sure that we don’t do that. That’s the point.
Yes. Your emphasis on humanity, means that if that did come to fruition, the earth is still going to be around. We’re not going to blow the earth up. It’s just, that we won’t be around on.
It’s been through this.
If you had dropped yourself on this planet 67 million years ago, you would think, man, this is a planet of dinosaurs. This whole planet is dominated by these large carnivorous things. Look around today, they’re gone. They’re gone. Being big and ferocious and ubiquitous is no guarantee of survival. Big ferocious and ubiquitous is trumped by cooperative, contemplative, and peace-seeking.
Those are strategies for long-term human survival, those other ones of competition, exploitation, and extraction, those are end games, man. Those are dead ends. We need to come up with new ways that are not like woo, woo, and pseudoscience, that are not ideological but that are instead based in natural processes. If we can embrace what that means to be natural, we have cognitive capacities to turn this ship around.
When I had been doing research on this, that had been something that I had actually talked about. I’m not a scientist, but I have random stupid theories every now-and-again, and I like to just research on them and stuff. That was something that had really just clicked with me and is that something that you teach a lot in Oika?
Yes. There is that whole conceptual basis, but the big one is telling the story. Telling the story of the universe in chapter by chapter. Talk about how the universe has evolved into what we see today. That provides the narrative arc upon which we can link into. That’s a big part of what Oika teaches is the actual story. By the way, the story of nature, like big bang, stars, planets, life, societies, the blah, blah, blah, culture, that story actually includes all of the big religious and spiritual epics.
They’re actually included in that story. Which is different than the way nature’s excluded from those stories.
In other words, the natural story is big enough to contain those stories. Whereas those stories, I’m not sure they’re big enough to contain nature. One is inclusive, the other is exclusive. I think that matters. That’s one of the things that Oika teaches is the whole story of how all of this came to be. It’s a beautiful story. It’s the most beautiful story. It’s the most amazing story ever.
Then the other part is the concepts. We have all of these concepts that we can explore, but here’s the thing to remember, and this is important: that they’re not just concepts, they’re actually experiences. These are experiences that we can have. Many people have had, many people have experienced fractals. We see them all around us. When you see a pattern somewhere and you see it somewhere else, that’s a fractal.
That fractal, that experience of that fractal is a bridge that confirms that everything’s connected. My point is that you see this big list of concepts? They’re not just concepts, they’re actually experiences that can be converted into concepts, that can be converted into relationships, that can be converted into art, that can be converted into culture. That’s how we get there, I think.
Speaking of that art and that culture, I just wanted to quickly talk about– because it’s something that I’m involved in myself and maybe if there’s any investors or anything out there, an idea for them as well, but how you’re implementing with artists and your idea with the blockchain and NFTs to then give back in help on a broader sense.
This is where I’m at, at present. This idea of integrating artists and using the philosophies and the power of decentralized finance, cryptocurrency, NFTs, Web3, Metaverse. That whole space is the future and how the blockchain works, and the part that NFTs can play in this, I just think it’s this wide open wild west. It’s this space of incredible opportunity and a lot of challenge and a lot of threat.
This is still a lot of inherited trauma to be dealt with, but the point is that crypto, that whole space is providing all these new ways to empower artists, to generate not just money, but relationship with their audience and also develop their practices, their artistic practices and the communities that they serve and that kind of thing. Right now, I’m also really interested in ecological restoration; actual restoration of habitats on the planet. What I’m trying to do with Oika in the blockchain is to recouple- this goes back to what we first talked about, to recouple economic concerns with ecological concerns.
In other words, to reunite those ECOS, the ECOS that are in economy and the ECOS that are in ecology, to bring them back together. What that means is using NFT as a way of, one, creating art that embeds ecological intelligence, art that embeds Oika. Then as Oika gets carried, it generates a revenue that can go back to the artist and also back to the habitats that inspired the artists. Smart contracts provide this amazing opportunity to redistribute funding resources where you really want them to go without a middle man.
There’s this huge opportunity to link artists and art to actual ecological restoration that’s happening on the ground. The idea there is that, the smart contracts will link ecological healing, some metrics of ecological restoration, to link those metrics to ecological value of the art. As the metrics of ecological healing go up, as the number go up, it also goes up in the economic dimension within the art. That recouples ecological to economical. That’s the fundamental principle.
We’re working on ways to do that with– I’ve got a pretty expansive cohort of artists that I’m working with now, and I’m getting them to create art that can do all of this, that can carry ecological intelligence and recouple economic and ecological.
Are there any places right now specifically that you’re focused on restoring or helping?
Yes. We have a project that a colleague of mine that I’ve been working on a lot, actually in Spain, not too far from where you are. Where he’s restoring a bird habitat wetland, and he’s actually the artist too. He’s got some amazing stuff. You can look him up, you can find him at OikaSpain. Then also, we’re just launching one in Kenya, off of the coast of Kenya an island called Lamu that I visited years and years ago, fell in love with.
This is an opportunity to help restore some coral reef habitats that were damaged if not destroyed in a big industrial port project. We’re enlisting local Kenyan artists to create art that can be submerged to serve as seeds for new coral reef growth. We’re going to be measuring how the habitat comes back, how the biodiversity returns, and those values of biodiversity then are reflected in the economic price of the art that’s created. There’s a lot of things like that that are in the works. I’m always looking for more artists and more habitats that have been damaged that are appropriate for restoration. If anybody knows of that, I’d love to hear about it.
Yes. Excellent. We can attach all your information obviously in the show notes. If you do know of anything, just check out the show notes to get in contact with Rich. Speaking of that restoration in Kenya really quickly, are you like submerging statues and stuff?
The idea is that these are concrete structures created by artists. The really cool thing. I think is that it’s an Islamic community. You have to be really sensitive to the art. It can’t just be depictions. It can’t be certain things because that wouldn’t be ecologically intelligent, that organism would not do well in that ecosystem. If we were to create art that was insensitive to the cultural understandings of things.
By the way, Islamic art has these really cool qualities in that, it can be very fractal. It’s very pattern-centric. It has all these ways of integrating nature in profound ways. There is this opportunity there to explore that in a meaningful way. That’s the idea though that the artists will create that art, it’ll get put down where the reefs have been destroyed, and it will attract new coral growth, new organisms, reef binders, arthropods, fish, that whole thing.
Then the idea is that it sells and then those proceeds are distributed through a smart contract back to the artist, back to the Oika community of artists, and also, directly back to the habitat through the colleagues that I have that I’ve been working with on the ground there.
Wow. That’s so cool. When I was in Australia, there was a bunch of Aboriginal art that really tied into the land. There was somebody I met in Indonesia who had a Monk tattoo and it meant specific things about what that is. Is that some of what Oika does? I know I saw one thing where you had a mirror or a window glass and painting from which was really cool, but what is the art specifically in which you–
It’s genre non-specific. Look, the point of Oika art is that it embeds ecological intelligence. It doesn’t matter what the material is. It could be painting, it could be photography, it could be song, dance, performance, sketches, it could be sculptures. It could be any form of art, but the idea is that it has embedded within it ecological intelligence. The Oika is in there. That’s what we do. It takes months and months to make sure that happens, so any art that’s created through this process can then be called Oika art. Without that, it’s not Oika art, it’s something else. It can take any form. I have yet to work with a performance artist or a songwriter, but I’m hoping that that opportunity comes along someday.
Excellent. Well, Rich, I know that we’ve talked about a whole heap of things, and hopefully, not too complex for anyone. Is there anything that you wanted to know about, maybe something that we missed that you felt was important?
I think my closing remark would be to just be patient because it takes time. Engage with these ideas, consider the story of the universe as a whole, and consider the experiences that we have in the context of that. If you can let yourself feel that entire story in you because you’ve inherited it; it’s in all of us. Our imagination, our thinking, our ideas, our identities are all wrapped up in this story. The key here is just to remember that and to let yourself feel that. That takes time. It takes practice.
It’s not hard practice; it’s actually really joyful practice.
Getting away from the world a little bit, sitting in silence, listening to the birds, listening to the way that wind moves through the trees, or even just the way that it reflects off of the grass, and contemplating what you are experiencing in the context of nature, the whole story of nature, it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to have a relationship with a much bigger story than the ones that we’re all wrapped up in right now, and there’s a way out of all that chaos. It’s about remembering our sense of belonging to this planet, and that’s really it. I think letting that happen will heal us, and by healing us, the world heals.
At some point, the problems that we’re all concerned about today will not just go away on their own, but they will become irrelevant. Solving these problems is not hard, but getting ourselves into a mindset that allows those problems to become irrelevant is actually, is not just easy, it’s good. It feels good. I think that’s probably it. I happen to be committed to science. I think science provides access, legitimate access, credible access to this. I can’t think of anything more enjoyable to do.
Being able to travel the world and be in nature all day is– well, it’s one of my dreams, but–
It doesn’t have to be all day. It doesn’t require that you cross an ocean or climb a mountain or live like a monk. It doesn’t require that. It just requires a practice of quiet contemplation occasionally to let it in and let it cultivate in you over time. I don’t want to give the impression that it requires that you live like you do or that I have. You can manage to cultivate this sense in the world today, in your life today, just by opening up a new relationship with nature.
Are there ways to flag when a connection like that might have happened or maybe it– Because I feel like obviously, these connections happen every day, and a lot of people might not be aware of the communication that was bounced around within if that’s–
Just awareness of it, man. Just take it seriously. That’s all I’m doing. I’m taking those moments seriously and taking a moment to acknowledge them when they happen, and having a framework to put them in when they do happen so that they can live. [chuckles] Spend time in nature, learn the story of the universe, and those experiences, those intuitions that you have, believe them because chances are, there is a scientific concept that will validate it and that will put it in that narrative, that will bring it into the context of that narrative.
I don’t know if that makes any sense or not, but I’m not kidding. This isn’t bullshit. I’m not selling anything. I’m just saying, look what I found. You’ve already got it, but let’s share it. Let’s feel this together. That’s really all I want to do.
Bringing to attention something that people might not be aware of. Then I don’t know, this isn’t your advice, this is my advice, maybe put down the phone from time to time and get outside from the TV because just for my life, for me personally, I found it’s just a distraction. Obviously, we all know that. That’s why we use it, to distract ourselves.
I think once you do it, once you feel the benefit, there’s this thing called forest bathing. Once you feel the benefit, it suddenly becomes a priority, like you start organizing your days around that moment because it feels good and it empowers you and energizes you and calms you. All those things that we crave are there. It doesn’t require Facebook. It doesn’t require new sneakers. It doesn’t require a fancy car. It doesn’t require any of that stuff. You just got to sit there and be open to it. Invite it in and it builds.
Beyond that and beyond Oika and everything, I always ask this for all of my guests on my show: If you could narrow one piece of advice down that you’ve learned through the entirety of your life, what would that piece of advice be?
I think I just said, which is to take time to be quiet and listen to nature. She is infinite in her capacity to heal us and to inspire us, and to energize us, and to befriend us. There is a deep source of joy and love in nature. My advice would be to give that idea a chance. Let yourself believe it. Let yourself be surprised by that possibility, and find the others who are willing to do that or have done that so that we can confirm this thing and let it take hold and heal us and planet.
Rich, thank you so much, man.
Dude, thank you.
I absolutely loved this conversation. I hope that everyone has learned a bit. There was so much to unpack and learn in that. If you guys are intrigued, want to learn more, want to research more, Rich, is there a way people can get in contact with you specifically or anything like that?
Just go to oika.com, reach out via the contact form, send me an email. I’m on Twitter @thisisoika, and check out my YouTube channel, I guess, where there’s a lot of earth stories there, little interactions that I have with nature. You can use those as a model for how to have this relationship with nature; the usual stuff.
Excellent. I’ll throw all of that in the show notes as well.
Rich, thank you so much.
Thank you, dude. Good talking with you. Let’s stay in touch.
Seriously, if you are interested in any kind of creative path or ecology in general, reach out to Rich. He is just a great human being.